Inside diabetes – what it does and how it happens
Learn more about what's really going on in your body when you have Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can have a negative effect on several aspects of your health. But just like lots of things about Type 2 diabetes, the good news is that there is something you can do about it. A healthier lifestyle can help you in lots of ways at once: you’re really doing yourself a massive favour to do a bit of exercise and cut down on unhealthy habits, because it will not only help to get you fitter and slimmer (if you need to get fitter and slimmer), but is also doing a lot of work behind the scenes to keep your whole body functioning well, for years to come.
If you have Type 2 diabetes you’re more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than someone without diabetes. This is because if you have Type 2 diabetes you are more likely to have some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The risk factors (things that increase your chances) include:
Getting your blood glucose to a healthy level is key to staying healthy. Read more about how to do that in our article Getting Blood Glucose Down
Make sure you have regular check-ups with a healthcare professional to keep an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. In addition:
Blood pressure can be lowered in a number of ways:
Cholesterol levels can be reduced by:
Find out if you’re in a healthy weight range with the NHS weight calculator
Ideally, you’ll have a BMI between 20-25. You can try to lose weight by:
If you do smoke, it is very important that you stop. There is plenty of help available to help you stop smoking, and your healthcare team will be available to help find what is best for you. If you have a family member or a close friend who can also help you to keep on top of your habits don’t be afraid to ask them for support, as this will help to keep you motivated and on target. Smoking when you have Type 2 diabetes can also increase your chances of having problems with your feet.
Take up the challenge of making one small change into a new healthy habit – for life. You can choose your own goals and track your achievements. The app is free and easy to use, and available on iOS and Android now.
Foot problems are common for people with Type 2 diabetes. Three out of ten people with diabetes develop foot ulcers. They are the most common reason for people with Type 2 diabetes to be admitted to hospital.
Foot ulcers usually develop from just a small injury to the foot and can take a long time to heal. They can also become infected, making healing more difficult. In rare cases, an ulcer can lead to serious problems like gangrene, which can even result in needing drastic surgery.
Having higher than normal blood glucose levels can, over time, cause damage to nerves. Nerve damage can reduce the feeling in your feet. Shoes can rub or cut into your feet without you realising, you may not feel hot water, or even a burn.
Raised glucose levels can also damage the small blood vessels in your body, which can reduce the blood supply to your feet. This can, in turn, result in your feet receiving less oxygen and other nutrients. Your skin can become frail, and more prone to injury. Once you get a cut or injury it takes longer than usual to heal.
The good news is that if you check your feet daily, you might catch problems early, and early intervention can help to avoid problems from developing. Remember to tell your doctor or diabetes nurse about any changes or loss of sensation in your feet as soon as possible. You should also get at least one foot check per year with a healthcare professional.
1. The body loses fluid. Some of the fluid is lost from the skin, which causes the skin to dry out. This can lead to other problems because:
2. You may be less able to resist infections and the time for your body to respond and heal will be slower. This can increase the risk of skin infections, boils, and spots, which may take a long time to heal
3. The nerves in your legs and feet may become damaged, which can be painful. You may also not be able to feel pain, heat, or cold in those areas – this is called diabetic neuropathy. Type 2 diabetes may cause the blood vessels in your feet and legs to narrow, and harden, resulting in poor blood circulation.
If you think you may have a skin problem, make an appointment to visit your doctor. If it’s a problem with the skin on your feet, make an appointment to visit your podiatrist.
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves of the body that carry signals from the brain, and the spinal cord to the muscles, skin, blood vessels, and organs. Neuropathy is a very common complication of diabetes, and while it can lead to unpleasant symptoms, many people with diabetes may not be aware of it. There are 3 main kinds of neuropathy:
There are lots of options available to treat diabetic neuropathy. These include improving the control of your Type 2 diabetes or taking some medications. The most important thing to remember is to take your treatment as recommended by your health care provider.
Diabetic eye disease can be very serious. It can lead to blindness if it cannot be controlled or is not treated in time. It doesn’t only occur in older people – it is very common in people with Type 2 diabetes who are of working age.
Diabetic eye disease (also known as retinopathy) occurs when tiny blood vessels in the eye are damaged. This is often a result of poor control of blood glucose (sugar), and blood pressure levels.
If you have been prescribed medication for your blood glucose or high blood pressure, it’s important to take it according to the instructions.
Each time you visit your healthcare provider your blood pressure may be checked, as blood pressure is linked with pressure in your eyes.
Controlling your blood glucose and blood pressure levels will reduce your risk of developing eye disease.
It’s important that you have your eyes photographed for retinopathy every year to check for signs of eye disease, so that action can be taken to help reduce your symptoms.
If you do have signs of eye disease, you may be checked more often.
Eye drops will be put into your eyes to dilate/enlarge the pupils. The eye drops may sting and affect your vision for a few hours, so:
In addition to your annual eye check you may also need to have your eyesight tested each year. This will be carried out at your optician’s and will assess your near and distant vision, and may include a test for glaucoma.
The longer you have Type 2 diabetes the more likely you are to develop some level of kidney damage (also known as nephropathy). Over time, Type 2 diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys, which means that they become less efficient at filtering out waste products. A sign of this is protein leaking into the urine. This is hard to identify, and this can really only be tested by testing the urine, which your nurse should do at least once a year. However, if you have signs of kidney disease this will be checked much more often.
Kidney damage increases your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Well controlled blood glucose levels and normal blood pressure can help slow down the progression of kidney disease. Smoking can contribute to the worsening of kidney disease.
Working to control your blood pressure is a key part of looking after your kidneys. You will also need to think about the dietary and physical activity recommendations made by your nurse, doctor or dietician.
Controlling your blood glucose and blood pressure levels will reduce your risk of developing kidney disease or may help to stop your kidney disease becoming worse.
For women, poorly controlled diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nervous system, which can reduce blood flow and sensation in the sexual organs. This can also contribute to vaginal dryness, making sex uncomfortable. On top of that, having high blood glucose means you are more prone to infections such as thrush.
For men, a common sexual problem is erectile dysfunction or impotence. This affects a lot of men, but is especially common in men with Type 2 diabetes. It may be caused by the physical factors of Type 2 diabetes, or the medication you take, lifestyle factors or your psychological state – or a combination of any of these. Poorly controlled diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nervous system, which can reduce blood flow and sensation in the sexual organs.
Getting control of your Type 2 diabetes and improving your lifestyle are a big part of improving the problem. You could see a psychosexual counsellor if you think it may be to do with how you’re feeling, and there are also a number of therapies available for men and women that can help. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you’d like to explore any of these options. There’s no need to be embarrassed – they’re healthcare professionals who see this kind of thing all the time, and will treat it like any other health-related condition.